In this age of instant communication, many have become slaves to our handheld electronic devices.

This has created a safety issue in many areas and state and local officials are trying to figure out how best to protect citizens ... from themselves.

A decade ago, the growing concern was with distracted drivers and states like Pennsylvania responded with new laws. Last March, a new statewide texting law went into effect for all Pennsylvania drivers, prohibiting them from texting while driving, but not from using handheld cell phones.

Pennsylvania's texting law is categorized as a "primary" law, which means that an officer can pull you over for the offense without having to witness some other violation. If the officer sees you texting and issues a citation, the fine is $50.

After signing the driving bill into law, Gov. Tom Corbett said the message of the driving legislation is to drive now and text later.

"If you have an urgent need to text, you must pull over and park. No text message is worth a human life," Corbett said.

Now there is another distraction danger but this one is outside the vehicle. Reports of injuries to distracted walkers being treated at hospital emergency rooms have more than quadrupled in the past seven years with numerous others going underreported. Some of the reported cases would be considered humorous, if they weren't so frightening and dangerous.

Ÿ Last April in suburban Los Angeles, a man texting a message to his boss nearly strolled into the path of a black bear that had wandered into the neighborhood. Looking up from his texting, the man saw the bear only a few feet away and ran.

Ÿ In Philadelphia this year, a woman who was texting while walking through a shopping mall tumbled into a large fountain directly in front of her.

There are numerous other documented stories, including the 67-year-old man injured while walking along the side of a road by a bicyclist who was talking on a cell phone as he rode; the 24-year-old woman who walked into a telephone pole while texting; the 28-year-old man who was walking along a road when he fell into a ditch while talking on a cell phone; the 12-year-old boy who was looking at a video game when he was clipped by a pickup truck as he crossed the street; and the 53-year-old woman who fell off a curb and was injured while texting.

Officials in Philadelphia have begun drafting a safety campaign aimed in part at pedestrians who are concerned more with their devices than with where they're going. City bus drivers and train engineers have reported nearly striking pedestrians who didn't appear to hear them sound their horns because they were distracted by their electronic devices. There have even been several cases of people trespassing on tracks and who were wearing headphones or using cell phones being hit and killed by trains.

Rina Cutler, Philadelphia's deputy mayor for transportation and public utilities, said the message she wanted to deliver to the distracted walkers was to "pick your head up."

"I want to say 'nitwit,' but I probably shouldn't call them names," she said.

Actually, being called a "nitwit" might be a mild form of correction, especially when one considers the consequences to such stupid action can be serious injury or even death.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]